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Ossip Zadkine biography

July 14, 1890

Smolensk, Russia
November 25, 1967 

Paris, France 

Poet, sculptor,
graphic artist 


Ossip Zadkine, a poet, sculptor and graphic artist, was born on 14 July 1890 in Smolensk . His father Aron Zadkine was a baptized Jew, he taught the classics in Smolensk ecclesiastical seminary. His mother, Sophie Lester, came from the family of Scottish shipwrights, who had moved to Russia in the times of Peter I. Ossip spent his childhood in Vitebsk. In 1900–1904 he studied in city vocational school (his fellow-student was Marc Chagall). In late 1905 Ossip was sent to his mother’s cousin to Sunderland (England); there he studied timberwork and went to art school. Next year he started working in joinery in London.

In this period he visited British Museum, attended evening courses in Polytechnic School (1907), studied woodcutting in Arts and Crafts School (1909). On summer holidays Ossip lived in Vitebsk and Smolensk; in one such period, he made his first granite work – “The Hero Head”. His friends were Vitebsk artist and art teacher Yu. M. Pen and his students.

In 1909, Ossip moved from London to Paris. There he studied in National Fine Arts School, though for a short period, and in 1910 autumn he rented a studio in La Ruche. In 1910–1914 he was living and active life of a bohemian artist and made friends with many famous poets, writers and painters, such as G. Apollinaire, P. Picasso, M. Jacob, A. Modiliani, I. Erenburg. In 1913 he rented a large workshop on Rousselet, 35, there he worked until 1928. 

In 1911 his sculptures had first been exhibited in the salons of Société des Artistes Indépendants and Salon d’automne. The first person to buy his works was prince Rodokanakis, who further gave the artist his support. Zadkine took part in the 1st exhibition of Artistic Association in Saint-Petersburg (1912), New Secession in Berlin (1914) and avant-garde exhibition “Allied Artists Association” in London (1914). He was keen on archaic art, Romanesque sculpture and African plastics. He exhibited not only sculpture but graphical works. 

In 1918 he came back to Paris. In 1920 he made his personal exhibition of sculpture, aquarelle and gouache in his own studio. 

About that time he married a painter Valentine Prax. 

In 1920-ies the artist developed his own plastic manner based on a special combination of cubistic principles and archaic elements. Ossip Zadkine made use of convex-concave planes, orifices and breaks, combined materials of different nature, painted his sculpture works, inlaid them or furnished them with graphical patterns or text. His most well-known works of interwar period are: “Guitarists” (1920), “Harlequin” (1929), “A Woman with a Bird” (1930), “Homo Sapiens” (1935), “In Honour of Bach” (1936), “Christ” (1939), he designed monuments for A. Rimbaud, comte de Lautréamont, G. Apollinaire, A. Jarry, made a number variations of classic images: “Laokoön”, “Maenads”, “Diana”, “Narcissus”, “Prometheus”, “Discus thrower”, “Demeter”; he had been working on the image of Orpheus for many years. 
The artist gained popularity in 1920–1930-ies. Since 1928, Ossip Zadkine worked in a studio on the address d’Assas, 100 bis. In August of 1941 the artist left the occupied France for New York, USA. Among his sculptures of that time are “Prisoner” (1943) and “Harlequin at War” (1944). 

In 1945 Ossip Zadkine came back to Paris. There he became professor of Académie de la Grand Chaumière and started working on the monument “Ruined City”, which was later unveiled in Rotterdam in memory of German aviation attack on the city. Among the sculptures the artist created after war are: “In Honour of Rodin” (1945), “Labirynth» (1947), “The Birth of Forms” (1949), “Poet” (1954), “Musical Trio” (1954), “The Great Herald” (1955), “The Return of the Prodigal Son” (1956), the last version of Orpheus sculpture (1956), “Atomic Explosion” (1963), Pushkin monument design for Paris (1967), a number of Van Gogh portraits, crowned by the creation of his monument in Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris (1961), and monument “Van Gogh Brothers” in Groot Zundert (1964). He painted in gouache, etched and did lithography. In 1960-ies the artist published a number of lithographic albums. Ossip Zadkine took part in more than 100 exhibitions in many countries. 

The artist died in Paris on 25 November 1967. He was buried on Montparnasse cemetery. Works of Ossip Zadkine are present in the biggest museums of Europe and USA. In 1982, his Paris workshop on d’Assas street was made Ossip Zadkine’s Museum housing a large collection of his works, and in 1988 his museum was open in the village of Les Arques.

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